THE infamous Beast from the East found the Benarty community more than a match for it and now Covid-19 has become a victim of people power.

An emergency response team was originally established, on an informal basis, in early 2018 when a major storm, dubbed “the Beast from the East”, hit the UK and Ireland.

Groups of volunteers banded together in Benarty to help the community, and, in particular, the vulnerable people within the community. The volunteers cleared snow from the streets, paths and driveways, delivered whatever help was needed to the people within the community, eg collecting and delivering groceries, and supported the care system by ensuring that vulnerable people had access to food, medication etc when their carers could not reach them due to the weather conditions.

When the pandemic swept the world, in the form of the COVID-19, local volunteers, once again, stepped up to deliver whatever help they could to the Benarty Community and re-activated a local emergency response team.

This time, however, more lives were seriously at risk, and money transactions would be involved. The volunteers, therefore, felt that a more formal approach to the emergency response was required and, following an initial public meeting, the Benarty Emergency Response Team, or BERT, was created.

Now looking back at what has gone on in Ballingry, Lochore, Crosshill and Glencraig over the past six months BERT feels that there is much for people to be pleased with.

Volunteers who acted as call handlers and drivers were, Charlotte Copeland/Howe, Patrick Boyle, Jo Dee, Andrew Canning, Claire Graham, Daniel Currie, Kevin McLean, Derek Davidson, Lea McLelland, Tommy Gavin, Calum Mitchie, Sharon Graham, Michelle Sutherland, Andrew Haddow, Sarah Jane Bell, Gordon Mackie, Maxine Bell, Colin Beveridge, Michelle McOuan, Jim Christie, Hannah Munro, Donna Clunie, Laura J Munro, Kevin Payne and Lisa Brannigan Reid. BERT’s hard-working contacts in the Benarty Foodbank were: Maggie Bell, Emma Bell and Lisa Reid.

BERT’s main purpose was to give assistance, where they could, to people in the Benarty Community who were: Deemed to be in a High-Risk Category, ie, who are over 70 years of age, have Respiratory Problems or have Underlying Health Conditions, and/or In Self Isolation.

Specifically, the Team aimed to: Help with local orders and deliveries of groceries and prescriptions. Assist any families or households that need to use the local foodbank during the crisis. Supply a buddy system of health and wellbeing checks to anyone in the Benarty Community that required it. Provide up to date official guidance and direct links to government services, such as Universal Credit; how to claim statutory sick pay and any other relevant issues that arose during the crisis. Provide posters for members of the Benarty Community to put in their window, or on their door, to advise visitors that they are in a high-risk category, or if they are self-isolating.

A decision was made early on that all shopping would be done locally in Ballingry, Lochore and Crosshill and the BERT volunteers said: "We would like to warmly thank all the local businesses for their help in making the system work smoothly and consistently throughout the period of BERT’s operation.

"A few exceptions were made to shopping locally where people had specific dietary requirements that could not be met by our own shops; and where people’s prescriptions were at a Lochgelly chemist, rather than one in Benarty. Also, where a volunteer driver saw, or heard of, any produce that was available somewhere, but was in very short supply locally, they would make a special trip to stock up for Benarty people!"

The BERT Constitution allowed for the team to set up its own bank account. Several banks were approached in March, but unfortunately, none were willing to provide banking services to a new “not for profit” community group. They were lucky that the BERT person with lead responsibility for financial issues also happened to be the Treasurer of the Benarty Events Group (BEG). The BEG Committee graciously agreed that BERT could operate through its bank account, providing, of course.

The Group received some fantastic donations from the community during the crisis including from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and the Events Group, which meant they were able to maintain the fantastic work.

But the group also underlined how many non cash donations there had been which had proved so valuable such as PPE equipment, Fairy Doors for the project in Lochore Meadows, butcher meat vouchers and contact leaflets.

The group reflected: "Never in recent history have so many people come together to help each other out in a time of crisis.

"Community groups through grants, donations, providing services and working together; local businesses doing their best to obtain and provide essential supplies; individuals through donations, fundraising and random acts of kindness; and groups and individuals working together across community boundaries. Let’s all endeavour to keep that spirit going into the future."